Vince Cable has been given the all clear by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), following an investigation into why constituents’ data was found in clear plastic bags outside his constituency office.

Document disposal practices at the Twickenham MP’s Lion Road office were investigated after a resident found the data, including constituents’ names, addresses and phone numbers, along with a national insurance number and medical records.

The ICO considered if there had been data protection breaches before deciding not to take any regulatory action against the Business Secretary.

An ICO report said there were a significant number of documents involved, many containing some personal data, but in most cases this consisted of publicly-available information such as names, addresses and telephone numbers. Others, the office said, contained information that had been put into the public domain.

It read: “Only in a very few cases was sensitive personal data, as defined by the Data Protection Act (DPA), disclosed in the documents.

“It is considered that this, too, would be unlikely to cause any substantial degree of distress to the affected individuals.”

Not everyone agreed with the decision.

Natasha Taroghion-Budd, 32, of Twickenham, said she thought it was common practice at any organisation to shred anything that had people’s details on, including lists of names, addresses and phone numbers.

She said: “Obviously data protection is really important and documents such as that in any organisation or business should be kept highly confidential.

“I can’t believe they have allowed them to get away with it.”

Nick Pickles, director of privacy and civil liberties group Big Brother Watch, added: “It beggars belief that the ICO doesn’t think a letter about suicide wouldn’t cause distress if it was made public.

“Dr Cable’s office failed to protect their constituents’ privacy and the real concern is how many other MPs are failing similarly. In failing to take any action in this case the ICO risks sending a message that protecting personal information, supplied in confidence, is not an important issue when it quietly clearly is.

“As far as the ICO’s concerned a slap on the wrist is good enough. I doubt the people whose health details, personal information, financial and legal affairs were left in the street share that view, and I certainly don’t.”

Questions were raised over how personal data was dealt with at the Business Secretary’s office in November, after a concerned passerby spotted reams of documents left outside Dr Cable’s office on a weekly basis in transparent bags.

The unnamed source, who claimed no political motivations but wished to remain anonymous, said he had taken information from the bags for safe keeping, because he felt residents would have been upset to know personal correspondence and information about their private lives was being left out in public for anyone to take.

The documents were given to the ICO to investigate and Dr Cable made a public apology to constituents.

This week Dr Cable’s office sent the ICO’s ruling to the RTT.

The ruling stated: “It was also clear that the incident had come to light only because a member of the public had taken it upon himself to rummage through sealed recycling sacks left out for the local authority to collect and had extracted documents from these over a period of some months.

“While it was acknowledged that these documents should really not have been put into these sacks, it was clearly not foreseeable that someone would then remove them.

“Given that all paperwork other than magazines and newspapers is now being shredded, this should reduce the chance of any repeat incident to virtually zero.”

The ICO does not propose to take any further action against Dr Cable.

Dr Cable wrote in an email to the RTT: “The Information Commissioner has now fully investigated the matter and looked through the material which you provided, obtained by an unnamed resident systematically searching through the waste, recycling, bags outside my office over several months.

“Your readers may be interested to know that as a result of the investigation no criticism has been made of my staff or me.”